Revelations about former employee prompt calls for new leadership at WAMU

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Staffers at WAMU in Washington, D.C., are calling for the station’s general manager to resign over his response to a former employee’s inappropriate behavior toward sources and co-workers. 

JJ Yore

Employees expressed their frustration with GM JJ Yore during a Zoom meeting Friday, according to a transcript and audio recording of the meeting obtained by Current. Station leaders organized the meeting with 133 staff members to discuss their handling of complaints against Martin Di Caro, a former transportation reporter with the station.

Criticism of Yore intensified after DCist, the station’s news website, published an in-depth investigation Wednesday detailing the allegations against Di Caro, who worked at WAMU from 2012 to 2017. The article was based on interviews with 24 women and “other people of marginalized genders” who said Di Caro had behaved inappropriately toward them, including commenting on their appearance, texting them late at night and asking them on dates. Some of the sources were spokespersons for the D.C. government or the area’s transit authority; four worked for WAMU.

According to DCist, Yore and other WAMU leaders received complaints about Di Caro’s behavior and issued two “final warnings” to the reporter. After his first warning in 2014, Di Caro was promoted to a full-time role at the station and produced a podcast about D.C.’s transit system, DCist reported.

Di Caro’s second warning two years later was a “Level III” infraction that can bring “immediate dismissal” under the policies of American University, WAMU’s licensee. But the infraction also allows for a lesser penalty “if the supervisor thinks it more appropriate.”

Employees who participated in Friday’s Zoom meeting criticized Yore for keeping Di Caro on staff. 

“If you had an iota of shame, you would have resigned,” Aria Velasquez, an audience producer with DCist, told Yore during the meeting. “This meeting should have started with your resignation, because what you have done is unacceptable, and you are incapable of leading us.”

“My understanding of the word ‘final’ in the phrase ‘final warning’ is that if you violate this again, you will be dismissed,” Velasquez told Current in an interview. “And the fact that Martin was not dismissed and had a second final warning, it seems to me that somehow they fell down on the job.”

Jordan Pascale, WAMU’s current transportation reporter, also criticized Yore’s handling of Di Caro.

Di Caro would be gone if it was me. He would be gone,” Pascale said during the meeting. “And the fact that he wasn’t leads me to think that you guys … just didn’t have the moral or ethical compass to figure out what to do here.”

Yore, who has led WAMU since 2014, apologized to the sources who spoke up about Di Caro’s behavior. 

“I’m just so sorry about the terrible things that some people here and a number of people who are no longer here experienced,” Yore said. “Not to mention all the women from other parts of the journalism and transportation communities here in town. … I’m just sick that this could happen to anyone and could happen here. … Clearly, we’ve made mistakes.”

Yore added that he had “been up many nights thinking about what I could and should have done differently. I and my colleagues in leadership, all of us are committed to doing what we need to do to prevent this kind of abuse in the future. I also know that many of you want more information about this case, and I can’t tell you more.”

Yore told staffers that he plans to stay at WAMU and work to restore trust in leadership. 

“I think in some ways, the easiest thing for me to do would be to walk away,” Yore said. “… And my choice, at least for now, is to stay, is to face you and to try to implement the changes that we need to make.” 

WAMU will hire an employee relations staffer to act as an intermediary with American University’s human resources department, Yore said. It will also invite more staff members to join the leadership team and will invest around $500,000 in diversity and equity programs. The search for the employee relations staffer will begin this month.

WAMU Chief Development Officer Lynn Marie Croneberger spoke in defense of Yore during the meeting. “We have JJ now,” she said. “He’s not perfect. He’s made mistakes, but I think he is aware of what damage has been done, and I feel like I can give him a chance to try and correct that with the right people.”

A WAMU spokesperson did not make Yore available for an interview. The spokesperson instead provided a statement from Seth Grossman, VP of people and external affairs for American University. 

“We are actively listening to staff concerns and recognize there are both specific and broader issues WAMU must address in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as how matters of misconduct are handled at WAMU,” Grossman said. “In the coming days, a series of actions to improve the WAMU workplace now and in the future will be announced. The goal is to support the WAMU staff and their work doing the great journalism that our community relies on.”

Many current and former WAMU employees have also taken to Twitter to express frustration with management. 

Station leadership has also been criticized for its handling of complaints against Zuri Berry, a senior managing editor whose behavior prompted several women of color to leave the station. American University’s human resources department is investigating Berry. Last month the station moved News Director Jeffrey Katz into a senior editor role and named DCist Editor-in-Chief Rachel Sadon interim news director.

Current is an editorially independent service of the American University School of Communication.

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